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Newly revealed Coptic fragment has Jesus making reference to 'my wife'
September 18th, 2012
03:28 PM ET

Newly revealed Coptic fragment has Jesus making reference to 'my wife'

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - A newly revealed, centuries-old papyrus fragment suggests that some early Christians might have believed Jesus was married. The fragment, written in Coptic, a language used by Egyptian Christians, says in part, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ..."

Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King announced the findings of the 1 1/2- by 3-inch honey-colored fragment on Tuesday in Rome at the International Association for Coptic Studies.

King has been quick to add this discovered text "does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married," she wrote in a draft of her analysis of the fragment set to appear in the January edition of Harvard Theological Review. The divinity school has posted a draft of King's article to which AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, contributed.

"This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married. The earliest reliable historical tradition is completely silent on that. So we're in the same position we were before it was found. We don't know if he was married or not," King said in a conference call with reporters.

"What I'm really quick to say is to cut off people who would say this is proof that Jesus was married because historically speaking, it's much too late to constitute historical evidence," she continued. "I'm not saying he was, I'm not saying he wasn't. I'm saying this doesn't help us with that question," she continued.

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In the accounts of Jesus' life in the Bible, there is no mention of his marital status, while the accounts do mention Jesus' mother, father and siblings. The four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - tell the story of Jesus' birth and early childhood then skip to his short, three-year ministry before detailing his death and resurrection.

The idea that Jesus was married is not a new one.

In other writings about the life of Jesus from antiquity suggest Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene, a disciple who was close to Jesus. Author Dan Brown also used the idea of Jesus being married as a jumping off point for the fictional novel "The Da Vinci Code." King dismissed that notion in her call with reporters.

“There’s no indication we have that Jesus was married,” said Darrell Bock, a senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. “One could say the text is silent on Jesus’ marital status is because there was nothing to say.”

Initial dating for the honey-colored fragment by the team of scholars puts the papyrus piece coming out of the middle of the second century.

King is referring to the fragment as the "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" or "GosJesWife" as a short hand for reference, and noting that the abbreviation does not mean this scrap has the same historical weight as the canonical Gospels.

Biblical scholars often use the term gospel to refer to a genre of ancient writings featuring dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, King notes in her paper. The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas are just a few of the ancient accounts about the life of Jesus that Christians do not consider canonical.

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At the conference, King said another professor suggested the fragment could have come from the text of a homily, or sermon, where the writer was using this phrase as a literary device. She told reporters that while she will consider that as a possibility, the fragment is “probably a gospel. Probably from the second century and most close to the Gospels of Mary, Thomas and Philip.”

Bock agreed with the notion that the text fragment shared similarities with those gospels, called the Gnostic Gospels, which were the writings of an early outlier sect of Christians. He said the text could be referring to a "gnostic rite of marriage that is a picture of the church and Jesus, not a real wife."

But he added, "it’s a small text with very little context. We don’t know what’s wrapped around it to know what it’s saying.”

Bock said it’s likely to be a gnostic text if it proves to be authentic. “The whole text needs vetting. She’s doing the right thing to release it and let scholars take a look at,” he said, adding “it’s a little bit like trying to analyze the game in the first quarter.”

“It’s a historical curiosity but doesn’t really tell us who Jesus was,” Bock said. “It’s one small speck of a text in a mountain of texts of about Jesus.”

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The owner of the fragment has been identified by King as a private collector who has asked to stay anonymous. The owner brought the fragment to Harvard have King examine it in December 2011.

King then brought it to the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. Roger Bagnall, the institute's director and an expert on papyrus, examined it and determined it to be authentic, Bangall confirmed to CNN.

Ariel Shisha-Halevy, professor of linguistics at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, who was asked to examine the authenticity, according to the draft of the article, told King via e-mail, “I believe - on the basis of language and grammar - the text is authentic. That is to say, all its grammatical ‘noteworthy’ features, separately or conjointly, do not warrant condemning it as forgery.”

Little is known about the origin of the text. Because both sides of the fragment have writing on them, King said it could have come out of a book rather than a scroll.

"Just like most of the earliest papyri of the New Testament and other literary and documentary papyri, a fragment this damaged could have come from an ancient garbage heap," the King says building on prior research by Luijendijk.

King writes "the importance of the 'Gospel of Jesus’ Wife' lies in supplying a new voice within the diverse chorus of early Christian traditions about Jesus that documents that some Christians depicted Jesus as married."

The Smithsonian Channel also announced Monday that it will air a special on King's findings on September 30.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Jesus

soundoff (4,539 Responses)
  1. wsu1983

    Oh say it isn't so! The literalist, evangelical nut jobs can NOT handle the truth! Let them remain ignorant, complacent sheeple the TV preachers so easily take advantage of.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  2. Hiway

    It would not be surprising if Jesus were married. According to Jewish belief and the times a Jewish man of his age was expectted, if not required, to marry.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  3. Darryn in VA

    Christ refers to the church ITSELF as his bride and himself as the bridegroom in the Gospel. If this text is legitimate, it could very well be that he is referring to his "bride" in this context again.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • HolySee

      Hilarious..
      The Christ you've created and revised over the last 2000 years.. is as real as Santa Claus.
      The REAL Jesus would scoff at the entire church hierarchy which has aligned itself with the rich and ruthless and treated it's flock like cattle. And done all of this in his name.
      I sure as hell hope there is a God that puts all of the slave owning, war mongering evangelicals in shackles for eternity (just hoping).

      September 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Amjo

      He was married to Mary Magdelene

      September 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • PikeRover

      Maybe you can tell me who followed "Jesus" and and wrote down all the things that are attributed to him. Better yet show me where I can see for my self first hand the original writings of the bible, not a translation of a copy of a copied translation, but the real thing. Until you can .... It's a nice story book.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  4. James

    It is amazing how little we know about Jesus' life. Even what we know was written long after his death and sure to have been inexact, enhanced, changed and subject to accounts handed down by word of mouth. We do not even know what Jesus looked like, certainly not blond and blue-eyed as portrayed in a lot of pictures and statues. The shroud of Turin has been reliably discredited. It would not surprise me if in reality, Jesus was married, had children etc. just as was expected by all Jewish man of his time. He could even have been gay. It does not matter to me as one of his followers. His teachings are what resonate with me.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      its amazing how little we know because he most likely never existed.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  5. Yaweh

    There was NO wife of Jesus! This is certain, because there was also no Jesus.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • old ben

      Hey wait, I was just into the whole gay jesus thing, with the foot fetish and all.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Dawn

      Jesus is a historial fact my friend. I could see if you talked about the rising from the dead, but Jesus has been proven my firend.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Hey Yahweh why are you such a D0uche, what with the still born babies, kids dying of Ebola that melts their cells and causes them to liquify inside bleeding out every orifice, and such. I could continue, but it really is all too grotesque for my taste, why are you such a psychotic lunatic Yahweh?

      Oh that's right your just a figment of my imagination, there is no god, that's why.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Scott,
      Why all the suffering?
      sin

      September 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  6. ScottCA

    Great talk on religion, really explains it well.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3YOIImOoYM&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  7. Bob

    Bible is the best Fiction book out there!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Not true, Harry potter has less contradiction and fewer plot holes.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Dawn

      Hmm, but even the Koran believes Jesus was a prophit at least. I guess that would be another great fiction book?
      Oh wait, you wouldnt write that though, WW3 might start. I understand now.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Harry potter also gives us a better guide to morality with much less genocidal murder being excused as being alright when we say its in the name of god.

      The new testament orders the killing of non believers and those oppose the rule of Christianity. these very verses were used to justify the inquisition and the killing of heretics, as commanded in the new testament..

      September 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Harry p0tter also gives us a better guide to morality with much less genocidal murder being excused as being alright when we say its in the name of god.

      The new testament orders the killing of non believers and those oppose the rule of Christianity. these very verses were used to justify the inquisition and the killing of heretics, as commanded in the new testament..

      September 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  8. 2357

    The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice.
    You who scoff at the invitation of Jesus Christ, I plead with you to reconsider, from the bottom of my heart.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      But jesus isn't making any invitations; it's just a bunch of people who claim to know what he wants that do the inviting for him. And none of those people can agree on anything they believe, so what do they know about an invisible, unprovable being?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      What a condescending pile of crap.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  9. Peter

    3. THIS IS FALSE!!! Do you want proof? IT WAS FORBIDDEN FOR ANY JEW to do the following: right before Jesus died, he told St. John to watch over his Blessed Mother. Under JEWISH LAW, if one had a living relative, it was a serious sin and total disrespect to have a non-relative watch over His mother. These are nothing but lies of the truth. CNN LIES AND ATTACKS ALL RELIGIONS especially the Catholic Church. CNN attacks and mocks God. Like religion caused most wars. Total lie! All wars from religion in 6000 years caused 17 million military deaths. Last century alone, atheism murdered 160 MILLION innocent civilians and 40 million military.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Kevin

      He also had siblings, thus it's representative of something else.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Miss Macy

      Holy cow. Calm down.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  10. James

    Well, this certainly has brought out all the nuts from under their rocks.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Dawn

      No they have been out for DAYS...you know in Egypt, Libya, should I go on? This is rather peacefully wouldnt you say?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  11. JohnnyYuma61

    I am a Christian. I have no problem whether or not Jesus was married. He is still the Savior of the world!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • sue

      I agree. It doesn't matter either way.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  12. The Dude

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  13. Mark

    Well...this should drum up the loonies on both sides. Hooray. Because we don't have enough B.S. drama right now.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Can't we all just get along?

      Second.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  14. skytech

    what a better way to interduce his wife, so it must be true.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  15. dlowings

    What the world truly wants to know is , was his wife a man or a woman ?

    The world we now live in .....

    September 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  16. Peter

    2. THIS IS FALSE!!! Do you want proof? IT WAS FORBIDDEN FOR ANY JEW to do the following: right before Jesus died, he told St. John to watch over his Blessed Mother. Under JEWISH LAW, if one had a living relative, it was a serious sin and total disrespect to have a non-relative watch over His mother. These are nothing but lies of the truth.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Dude, your book has talking snakes and zombies, I'm pretty sure telling somebody to look in on your mom isn't that big of a deal in comparison.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • skytech

      be couse that is what you are lead to believe. if it a from that time then it must be true and no christian will like it.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Kevin

      He also had siblings.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      You have a seriously compromised idea of what "proof" is.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Peter

      The snake was the devil. Even today, we call the devil the serpent. But God Who created the universe could allow a snake to talk if He wanted – foolish to think different. Fools believe the 1) universe came from nothing by nothing 2) universe is infinite. 3) Truth is God created the universe. Time, matter and space CANNOT create time, matter and space. The cause MUST be timeless, immaterial and spaceless. Only two things meet these conditions: numbers and minds. Do number create? No, hence, a mind. A mind has free will. The cause was immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and personal (free will). This is the God Who is Jesus the Christ. It takes much faith to believe the universe comes from nothing by nothing! Truly, it is worse than magic and only thinking from people with severe delusion!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • avd

      It's not a lie. Your story is skewed. If you knew the whole truth, you'd know that was Jesus' half-brother.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Peter

      So Kalam is the best you can come up with? All I have to say is
      1) Prove your assertion that the universe couldn't come from nothing.
      2) Prove your assertion that the universe isn't infinite.
      3) How does any of that point to the god of the bible?
      4) Upon what basis do you assert that a mind must have free will?

      There's more, but I decided to stop at 4 for now and see what you come up with.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  17. JohnnyYuma61

    But ya see we don't, because we live in a civilized society.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  18. John Smith

    Nakoula, we know it's you...

    September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  19. Peter

    THIS IS FALSE!!! Do you want proof? IT WAS FORBIDDEN FOR ANY JEW to do the following: right before Jesus died, he told St. John to watch over his Blessed Mother. Under JEWISH LAW, if one had a living relative, it was a serious sin and total disrespect to have a non-relative watch over His mother. These are nothing but lies of the truth.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      "These are nothing but lies of the truth." What the heck does that mean?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Miss Macy

      How many times are you going to copy and paste this same dumb paragraph? I've seen it here at least half a dozen times already. Go fold socks or something.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  20. Can't we all just get along?

    Apparently not.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.